Thursday, September 12, 2013

Marshmallow, Spaghetti Sticks and String…Oh My! How to Encourage BA and PM Collaboration

In her discussion titled “Let’s Collaborate Not Tolerate…” Paula Bell (CEO, Paula A. Bell Consulting, LLC) proclaimed early on that “Many people talk about collaboration, but few people actually collaborate.”  After this proclamation, Bell moved forward with her mission to make sure that session participants became a part of (if not already in) the population that actually collaborates – not just talks about. 
Bell emphasized the importance of first building a relationship with your partner (project manager or business analyst), next fostering a collaborative environment, and finally maintaining a positive relationship. 

As a part of building a relationship, Bell encouraged participants to

·         Learn about each other (likes/dislikes, working styles, and communication styles)

·         Set expectations for working together

·         Stay connected with one another

In terms of fostering a collaborative environment, she stressed the importance of (among other things)

·         Investing time upfront

·         Communicating goals

·         Defining roles and responsibilities

For maintaining a positive relationship, Bell advised participants to do a number of things including

·         Make good on your word

·         Admit your mistakes

·         Be realistic

To help session participants grasp and retain the key concepts above, Bell shared interesting videos, provided a template demonstrating how to apply some concepts, and directed the team in a very engaging and thought provoking activity (learned from another expert).

It was the aforementioned activity that seemed to really allow session participants to practice and assess their own collaboration.  Bell divided participants into small groups that were responsible to work together to build a structure (as tall as possible).  Each group was afforded the exact same resources for building its structure (a marshmallow, some spaghetti sticks, a string and some tape).  At the end of a set time period, the group with the tallest standing structure was declared the winner.

The winning group had a structure that stood 19 inches tall.  When Bell allowed the group to share with others how they worked together, one of the group members explained “I trusted my team”.  The group member went on to explain how she never worked with the others in her group (prior to the session), so she had no reason to distrust them.  The group member’s comment tied back to one of Bell’s key bullet points on maintaining positive relationships – making good on your word.

Overall, Bell’s obvious passion for the material, interactive tools, and hands-on activity seemed to drive home the point that collaboration is not something to simply be talked about – relationships must be established, a collaborative environment must be fostered, and the positive aspects must be maintained. 

Belinda Henderson, CBAP, PSM
Senior Consultant and Business Analysis Blogger, Cardinal Solutions Group
Guest Blogger, 2013 Project World & World Congress for Business Analysts

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